A previous post here discussed how a young woman died shortly after being misdiagnosed at a walk-in clinic near a college campus. A jury later determined that the student’s family was entitled to $9 million due to the clinic’s medical malpractice. The tragic story raises questions about walk-in care clinics in general. On the one hand, they are great when a person needs a doctor, but a primary care physician is not available, such as when the need arises after hours or on a weekend. Moreover, these clinics also can treat many of the same medical issues that emergency rooms treat, but at a fraction of the cost.
However, if there is a downside to these clinics, it is that they do not always have the same equipment, or are not subject to the same regulations and oversight, as are traditional emergency rooms. Moreover, walk-in clinics usually are staffed by primary care physicians, or even by nurse practitioners or a physician’s assistant, as opposed to doctors and nurses who specialize in treating emergencies. These differences have led at least one major organization of physicians to strongly encourage urgent care clinics to not in any respect refer to themselves as emergency treatment centers.
Instead, while walk-in clinics should follow an appropriate standard of care for injuries and illnesses they can treat, their staff also has a responsibility to identify when a person’s condition needs a higher level of care and to transfer that patient promptly. Urgent care clinics provide a valuable service to Kansas City residents. However, they also have a legal responsibility to make sure that they diagnose their patients promptly and accurately and take the necessary steps to protect them. These steps may include sending the patient somewhere else. When clinics fail in these obligations, they may be legally responsible to pay compensation to their victims.